DOM MINTOFF - the Statesman
Mintoff at the helm
On winning the June 1971 general elections, the Labour leader Dom Mintoff went tothe Governor's Palace where at the hands of the British Governor General, Sir Maurice Dorman, he took the oath of office. As soon as the ceremony was over, the new Prime Minister handed Dorman an order to leave Malta. The first string attached to the Independence package accepted in 1964 by the Nationalist Government, was being severed.
The second step was an eviction order issued to NATO, to dismantle immediately theirheadquarters from Malta, as well as the equally immediate expulsion of NATO chief Admiral Birindelli from the Island.
It is worth noting here that despite that NATO had its Southern Europe headquarters on the Island, Malta was refused membership, even even as an observer!
The Mintoff-led government then embarked on its major challenge, that of reviewing the Financial and Defence Agreements signed in 1964 by the previous government on the granting of Indipendence.Discussions held in London were tough as the British Government had already plancs to dismantle completely its base in Malta by 1974 -- leaving thousands of Maltese people jobless, and further adding to the economic disaster prevailing during those times. For, besides direct payment by the UK Government for the use of facilities on the island, and the employment of local civilian personnel, British families living in Malta where contributing indirectly to the economy as well.
With the changing of times, British interests no longer required the maintaining of a base in Malta.
Mintoff was fully aware of that but justifiably maintained that the strategic geographical position of Malta was still of the utmost importance.
Shrewd as he always was, Mintoff let it be known that contacts 'could' be made with the Soviet Union over the use of the military base in Malta.
The US backed NATO jumped in when discussions with Britain reached a stalemate. Still no agreement was reached as the demand for rent fixed by Mintoff at 20 million pounds yearly,was not reached. Towards the end of 1971, the Malta Government issued an ultimatum to the British Government, ordering all British personnel to leave the Island. The British took Mintoff's threat seriously and dismantled all their facilities and evacuated almost all their personnel and families from the Island before the deadlined hour was reached. They did perhaps believe they could by this action call Mintoff's 'bluff' hoping he would rethink Malta's stand, and reduce his demands.
It was not Mintoff who changed his mind however, but the British. An eleventh hour agreement was eventually reached when the British gave in to Mintoff's modified demands. Theagreement signed by Mintoff and British Secretary Lord Carrington stipulated that the foreign base in Malta would close down, permanently, on March 31, 1979. The 20 million pound demand was reduced to 14 million, but in addition the British had to provide many more millions in soft loans, as well as more millions of pounds in assistance from Britain's NATO allies, mainly Italy. Mintoff's 'bluff' had paid its dividends, for now with the large income from the use of the military facilities, the Government could plan ahead the economy of the Island.
On his return to Malta, Mintoff was given anoverwhelming welcome by thousands of jubilant Maltese.
Immediately after Dom Mintoffwent to China and obtained another soft loan from the Chinese Government as well.
Mintoff had successfully embarked on the path of declaring Malta a neutral state, with both Super powers of that time, the United States and the Soviet Union being afforded the same facilities, but with both being barred from having any military personnel on the Island or their ships entering Malta's harbours.
Following on this path discussions were also started with Libya, and a strong friendship and active cooperation started between the two countries. It must be noted here that throughout the struggle with Britain and NATO, it was Libya which was financially backing the Malta government. When the Labour Party took office in 1971, the Government funds were short of inuumerable millions, national debt was enormous, and the Government did not even have the cash required to pay the salaries to its employees. Libya's leaderCol. Mu'amar Gaddafi's generosity at that crucial moment in history, was instrumental for the success in Mintoff's negotiations of the new financial and defence agreements. It is also noteworthy that contrary to Nationalist Party propaganda that Malta was being sold to the Libyans, history has proved that Libya's intentions at the time were clear: the removal of foreign military powers from their bases in the Mediterranean basin. Malta's neutrality then, as much as today, suited Libya as much as it suited all other surrounding countries.
Italy realising this fact, is still maintaining its part of the Neutrality pact signed in later years with Malta and with Libya as the third partner. Mintoff's efforts to reach a similar agreement with the Soviet Union and the United States of America, did not get an equally positive reply from the U.S.
Mintoff did however manage to attract the attention of the whole world on the problems of security in the Mediterranean.
In Helsinki, at the International Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Mintoff participated with obvious great active interest. He held his best card till the end of the game, however, when he refused to sign the final document until and unless a new clause regarding the security of the Mediterranean was included in that document.
Many countries backed Malta in its endeavour, but some countries fought bitterly against it and eventually had to give in to Mintoff's demands. A declaration to the effect that there could not be security in Europe unless there was security in the Mediterranean was included in the final document, and adopted internationally. Thus was born the Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean. The Conference had its first meeting in Malta itself a year later.
Gallery of Pictures Dom Mintoff's Family Album
Mintoff's Political Career in Pictures
"Operation Terror Well Under Way" 28 April, 1958
Acknowledgements: The author acknowledges with thanks the publishers of various Maltese political and other publications, where the pictures in these pages were originally published.The Author declares that all scripts in these pages are original and views expressed, therefore subjective. Pictures used in these pages are mostly scanned from MLP and GWU publications. Many are reproduced from newspapers, hence the lack in quality. All literary works in these pages are also original and are being published for the first time. None of the written material may be published in whole or in part without the express written permission by the Author. © E.C. Schembri